Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(71) by Lorraine Heath
He made her smile. He brought her carnations. He read her poetry. But mostly he spoke of the ball that he and his mother would be hosting in honor of Walter.
“It’s been good to see Mother engaged in something other than weeping. She and Walter were so close, you know,” he said quietly as they strolled through Regent’s Park. They’d taken to visiting different parks and she wondered if it was in part because he hoped to avoid running into Tristan.
She considered telling him that Tristan was apparently no longer in her life, but that would be a tacit confession that he had once been, and she wasn’t quite certain how that would go over. She heard no rumors of him and Lady Hermione so she wondered if he was on the sea. She tried so terribly hard not to think of him at all, but he was always there, taunting her with memories.
But if she’d learned anything at all of late, she’d learned that memories did fade, muting the joy or pain associated with them. She had but to be patient and soon all of her remembrances would revolve around Chetwyn.
“I can’t imagine the devastation of losing a child,” she said, equally quietly. They always spoke as though everything they said was not to be shared with others, was a secret. It created a sense of intimacy, but knowing what true intimacy was, she recognized their habit carried a falsehood with it. She supposed one day that it wouldn’t. If he continued to court her. If he ever asked for her hand.
She could only hope that if she did marry, on her wedding night, when her husband discovered she was not . . . untouched, that he’d believe she’d given herself to Walter on the eve of war before he marched off, and hopefully he’d forgive her for such a rash act.
“It was devastating for her,” Chetwyn said. “At one point, she even said that she wished it had been me.”
“No, Chetwyn.” She squeezed his arm. “She didn’t mean it. Grief was speaking, not her.”
“So I told myself. I wish Father were alive. Sometimes I feel as though I’m a fake, wearing the mantle of marquess.”
His father had died nearly ten years ago. He should be accustomed to it by now, but still she realized that it could not be easy for one so young. Walter would have been twenty-five. Chetwyn was three years older. The same age as Tristan. She couldn’t imagine Tristan bemoaning his responsibilities. But then his life had been very different. The two could not be compared.
“You are an exceptional marquess,” she assured him.
“My mother might stop harping once I’ve seen to my duty of acquiring a wife.”
Her breath caught. He grimaced. “Sorry. I am here with you because I wish to be. I enjoy your company.”
“Parents are troublesome, though, aren’t they? Father is desperate for me to find a husband. But it is such a permanent thing that I don’t think the decision should be made in haste.”
“Quite right.” He sighed. “The ball. I was discussing the ball. May I confess something?”
“Mother and I fought this morning. I’m of a mind to invite the Duke of Keswick. He fought in the Crimea. It seems appropriate.”
“Your mother disagrees.”
“Wholeheartedly. I understand he’s a bit rough around the edges, but he behaved exemplary at the last ball he attended. I thought perhaps he could even speak of the need to not forget those who fought and returned with challenges.”
“I believe he would be a wonderful addition to what you have planned.”
He smiled. “I quite agree. Now if you could help me convince Mother . . .”
“What if I did a bit more than that?”
“What have you in mind?”
“You shouldn’t invite him.”
“But you just said—”
“I’ll invite him. Then your mother can’t be mad with you.”
“No, she’ll be mad with you.”
“But I don’t live with her.”
“But you very well could in the near—” Blushing scarlet, he faced her and took her hands. Her heart was pounding like a regimental drum. “You must know that my interest in you goes beyond poetry and walks in the park.”
Her mouth suddenly dry, she nodded.
“If my interest is not wanted, you have but to say and I shall leave you be.”
So polite, so damned polite. He would never anger her; he would never challenge her; he would quite possibly never fight for her. She wanted more, but even as she thought it, only one man came to mind: Tristan. He brought with him thousands of lonely nights. With Chetwyn, she would have no loneliness. She would quite possibly have no passion, but perhaps she’d had enough to last a lifetime. Her aunt thought love was rare, and Anne had possessed it for a short while. Surely passion such as she’d known was even rarer. But the price to keep it was too high.
“Your attention is welcomed, Chetwyn.”
Smiling, he lifted her gloved hands and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “You’ve made me very happy, Anne, and I shall do all in my power to see that you are happy as well.”
“But first you must please your mother.”
He chuckled lightly. “Yes, quite. At least until I can move her into the dower house.” He turned and they began walking again. “So about this invitation to Keswick . . .”
Living a good bit of his youth on the streets of London, Rafe Easton had developed a keen instinct when it came to judging men. Not all hands offered in assistance were harmless. Not all smiles led to laughter. Not all friendship was true.
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